Flared Straps (padded to wrap)
This variation is the result of combining both the regular padded strap and the wrap strap. These start with a padded section at the top of the strap and then transition to a flat wrap strap half the width of the wrap (or to about 33cm if the strap is made from fabric other than a wrap). The wrap part of the strap can be worn bunched or spread out. This strap style is my most popular style.
Pro: You don't have to worry about pressure points if you don't get them spread just right. Straps don't spread over your shoulders as far compared to wrap straps in a back carry which some people prefer. You can spread the straps up over the body of the carrier for more support but just tying them unspread like regular meh dai straps works great too. You can use the spread out strap to widen the base of the carrier.
Con: Petite wearers (under size 10 (Australian sizing) may need petite padding especially if you like to wear your baby in a high back carry as this will give more space for the wrap part of the strap to spread out.
Some vintage baby carriers from the past 100 years or so. These baby carriers were not as common and not always as ergonomic as the carriers in use today but there were certainly quite a variety! There were rigid structured carriers , improvised carriers, tandem carriers, hip seats, and soft structured carriers.
I came across lots of photos of carriers which look like little chairs and one which looks a little like a traditional cradleboard. Wearing baby on the back facing out seemed quite popular! Framed back packs were around too (at least from the 1960's).
Baby carrier 1945
A man feeds a piece of a doughnut an infant in a baby carrier at the Hog Farm Collective commune, , New Mexico, October 1, 1969.
Backpacks and Improvised Carriers
Some caregivers didn't even use a baby carrier just improvised with what they had - for example just popping baby in their bag or back pack.
Improvised baby carrier - 1926
Some carriers needed two people to use and some were not worn on the parent's body at all.
Baby carrier for couples - Jack Milford - 1937
Welsh Family waiting for visiting King George V 1935
Hip carriers seemed to be popular with a few brands available although they don't look particularly comfortable with their narrow shoulder straps. DIY patterns are found for these carriers too. There was at least one pattern available through a popular commercial pattern company and I found another which was available through mail order.
Cradleseat hip carrier (manufactured in London)
Christmas shopping - December 1968
Hip seat pattern 1970's
Bild-It-Yourself Club hip seat pattern.
There were also soft carriers similar to the narrow based carriers still sometimes found today and some with a more ergonomic wider seat. The Snugli was also around (the earlier versions are actually more ergonomic than later designs with their wide seat, comfortably padded shoulder straps and waist belt). The nursing mother's association (now the Australian Breastfeeding Association) were producing their Meh Tai carrier from the 1960's.
Narrow based carrier.
The Snugli was invented by an American nurse, patented in 1969. It had padded adjustable shoulder straps, a waist band and an internal infant harness and could also be used for older babies without using the harness. There are some great detailed pictures in this link here https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/599372091/vintage-soft-blue-cotton-corduroy-snugli?show_sold_out_detail=1
Soft Carrier (possibly DIY) from the Selma to Montgomery March 1965
Nursing Mother's meh tai 1960's
Do It Yourself
Sewing magazines and books also obsessionally offered DIY baby carrier patterns - some look quite comfortable like this meh dai like pattern from 1977.
Some patterns however look less so like this hip carrier. (Creative Sewing Things to Make For Children Jeanne Argent Studio Vista1979)
Do you have any vintage baby carrier photos to share. I would love to see!
Sources for images in this article can be found here - https://www.pinterest.com.au/hipababy/babywearing-history/
Some photos of my wrap scrap quilt! I made this as a picnic quilt although I tend to use it more as a throw rug. I love to look at it and see scraps of wraps that I carried my children in or scraps of brands that were popular when I was babywearing. The scraps are mostly from Natibaby, Girasol, Didymos and Oscha wraps and a few from Tula Wovens, Pollora, Pavo, Diva Milano, Firespiral, Ellevill, and Kokadi. The quilt reminds of when my children were babies and how sweet it was to hold them close.
The quilt was made from woven baby wrap scraps and denim sourced from old denim jeans - I like the colour variations from the different pairs and the wear on some of the denim squares gives character. I quilted it by stitching in the ditch so the quilting is pretty much invisible. I added a machine washable bamboo batting as life with children is still messy and I want the quilt to be used. The binding was made from a lightweight denim and was hand sewn. I lost count after a while but I think this took approximately 20 hours to make in total. Cutting out all the squares took the longest! I only worked on it now and then when I had some spare time so it took about a year to complete. This is only the second quilt I have ever made and I was really pleased with how it turned out. It had the added bonus of making a good dent in my wrap scrap pile!
Hong Kong 1940's (source:https://collections.lib.uwm.edu/digital/collection/agsphoto/id/23471/rec/76)
The traditional Meh Dai (Mei Tai)
Mei tai/Mei dai/bei dai/ are transliterations of a Chinese word 背带 meaning ‘baby carrier’ A meh dai is comprised of a square or rectangular shape with a four straps (on the top and bottom). Chinese baby carriers are commonly also found with two top straps only but the western meh dai has been adapted from the version with four straps. Meh dai’s are used with both babies and toddlers and traditionally are mainly used to back carry. In western countries they are often used on the front and occasionally even for a hip carry (although this isn’t very common). There are similar carriers which are found in other parts of the world (eg parts of Africa) but it seems likely that the western mei tai was directly adapted from the Chinese version. This is explicitly stated by The Nursing Mother's Association when discussion the origin of their Meh Tai (Meh dai)
"For the last decade we have
advocated the use of a baby sling
similar vo the type in which
Asian women have carried their
babies lor centuries. The sling is
called a "meh-tai". which I
understand is Chinese for baby
The Canberra Times Wed 29 December 1976 page 2
When this style of carrier and similar ones from asian countries like podaegis/ hmong/nyia, and onbuminos became popular in the US in the early 2000’s they were lumped into the umbrella term Asian style Baby Carrier (ABC for short) . When reviews were fist set up at The Babywearer (the most popular online babywearing forum at the time) there were only categories for "traditional carriers" and for "soft pack carriers" and no separate category for 'mei tai'. However it was soon suggested that as these carriers were inspired by traditional Chinese carriers the term mei tai should be used to better reflect the carriers origins. More recently the spelling meh dai or bei dai has become popular as it more accurately reflects the pronunciation in the Cantonese and Mandarin dialects of Chinese respectively.
Traditional Meh Dai’s
There was certainly variety in Chinese meh dais. There was variation in body shapes, hoods made of lattice work fabric strips, shoulder straps padded with plant material, headrests and even pockets! Carrier covers for cooler weather are found too Many traditional carriers are beautiful works of art, embellished with intricate embroidery with symbolic and cultural meaning (I highly recommend the book 'Bonding via Baby Carriers' – there are many wonderful Chinese baby carriers pictured).
Traditional Chinese meh dai’s were usually tied with the straps twisted at the chest and any excess tucked.
The traditional carriers used in Hong Kong had four Straps around 110cm each, tied at a knot at the chest. At the end of one or both shoulder straps the corners were folded over to the centre to form a pocket in which to carry a few coins. In the 19th and early 20th century The panel was quite large measuring up to 60cm. Gradually the overall size of the carrier became smaller during the 20th century. The carriers worn by the Cantonese and Hakka were about 25cm square. The shoulder and waist straps were a continuation of the top and bottom edges. The Hoklo and Tanka fishing people used carriers which were slightly smaller overall, longer straps were fixed diagonally to the four corners. Head supports were often attached. These were made of folded strips of cotton about Icm wide stitched at intervals to form a lattice square and attached to the top edge of the carrier to support the baby’s head. In the 1970’s it was usual to see most young children carried in these cloth carriers. Sadly By the early 2000’s the use of these traditional carriers has almost completely disappeared. Imported mass produced had mostly replaced them and most mothers tended to carry their children in front following Western fashion.
(Chinese Baby Carriers: A Hong Kong Tradition Now Gone Valery Garret Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society © 2001 Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch
Hong Kong 1957 https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/177188566575051521/
Children carrying siblings Hong Kong 1956 (source https://gwulo.com/atom/22127)
Western children in Hong Kong were usually carted around in prams. The exception to this was in the early's 1940's when Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese and many western families were interned in Stanley Camp. Traditional baby carriers were used by mothers and babies there.
The photo below is a sketch drawn in Stanley Camp of a traditional baby carrier in use. You can see a flat shot of the actual baby carrier pictured in this drawing in an article about a reunion of the camp inmates (the baby grew up and kept it!) Link to article https://gwulo.com/node/30240
Vintage Mei Tai (Meh Dai) - Pre Internet
Early western versions were quite close to the traditional Chinese ones. While there was quite a bit of variety in the traditional ones they generally they had thinner, unpadded, and shorter straps than the meh dai’s seen in western countries today.
Pre Internet - Early Commercially Produced Meh Dai’s
The meh dai seems to have first appeared in the west in Australia first in the 1960’s. Variations may have been around before this in other western countries but I haven’t found any other earlier commercially made examples so far.
There were very few commercially produced meh dai's or similar carriers with tied straps before the early 2000’s. The meh dai (Meh tai) sold be the nursing mothers association is the earliest example I have found. It was quite close to this traditional design with four relatively short straps designed to be tied at the chest by twisting all four straps together. The carrier was also fairly lightweight with thin straps (but the shoulder straps were padded unlike in a traditional carrier). This early version of the mei tai was designed and sold be the Australian Breastfeeding Association (then called the Nursing Monthers Association). It was sold as the Meh Tai and later a version with clip version which did up with buckles was designed.
The ABA meh tai had short straps and could be worn in the traditional way or in this variation. The lower straps were tied around the waist like an apron. Then the baby was held against your chest and the body of the sling pulled up over baby's back. The top straps went up over your shoulders, then crossed behind your back, then each should strap was tied onto the waist straps.
"In 1966, NMAA Founder Mary Paton and her family were featured in a Herald newspaper series about Melbourne families. This busy mum literally flew home from another engagement to meet with the reporter and photographer at her home. Whether by good luck or intention, Mary had her youngest child on her back in a Meh Tai and the photographer suggested she "do something" he could photograph her doing in this strange thing. Mary grabbed the vacuum cleaner and was thus captured for eternity cleaning the house wearing a smart dress and high heels - donned for her earlier engagement! The response from readers was amazing, contacting the newspaper asking where they could buy such a thing - and Mary quickly announced that NMAA made and sold them"
This photo was published by the Herald in 1967 to help publicise the Meh Tai and was used on the Meh Tai packaging and instruction sheet.
Another newspaper photo that appeared on the front of the Wagga Daily Advertiser February 1976.
Below in the Meh Tai instruction booklet from 1984.
Some more examples - produced later but still the same design.
Source: Google Images
There was also a similar style being sold by at least one US LaLeche Leaque group in the 1970’s.
'Later on, in 1975, my second child was born. By that time I was a member of LaLeche League and our little group was making a mai tai-type carrier out of soft denim with a Raggedy Ann or Raggedy Andy appliqued on the seat and selling them for $7. each to support our group! I so wish I had a photo or had kept it. It was so cute! And handy!
Instructions to DIY mei tai like carriers could be found in Family/ DIY/ Mother's magazines in the 60's,70's,80's, but overall information access to traditional baby carriers before the internet allowed an explosion of sharing is fairly rare.
One example can be found in this English pattern book. This design from 1979 is close the traditional in that is has 4 straps of equal length and the top straps are straight across rather than angled but it is being worn in more of a western style (straps are crossed and tied behind baby's bum rather than twisted together at the front)
I have a separate blog post about this pattern if you would like to learn more here.
The Comfey Carrier was likely another early meh dai although I couldn’t find a picture of it to confirm this. This carrier had no buckles, could be used for front and back carriers and included two long straps that the user would cross in back and tie in front. The carriers were around from at least 1989 and they were still being sold in 1997
"It's deceptively simple. It's made of washable cotton stretch velour, no buckles or anything to adjust. You just place the baby on it, bring part of the carrier up through her legs, tie it around her waist, then bring two long straps up over your shoulders, cross them in back or front depending on where the baby is and tie around your waist on the other side. Baby can be face in or out, front or back (4-ways) and (this is the best part) is so secure you can bend down to pick up something off the floor and s/he won't fall out. It's incredible comfortable to wear. I have a bad back and I could hike for hours with a 4-month old in this carrier.
Mei tai’s really took off around the early 2000’s probably at least partly due to the fact that the internet had made the sharing of information about different baby carrier options much easier. A cottage industry was soon born - many online shops were opened with each small company or hobbyist adding on their own distinct twist to the meh dai. These makers developed many of the features and fabrics we see on meh dai's today. There are now dozens of different brands of mei tai’s (some still available new and some no longer in production) with a wide variety of features such as head supports, sleeping hoods, pockets, long padded or wrap style straps, mesh panels for hot weather, and cinchable bodies for easier use with different aged babies. More about this in part 2!
Chinese Style Baby Carriers in Hong Kong https://gwulo.com/node/38670
Chinese Baby Carriers: A Hong Kong Tradition Now Gone Valery Garret Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society © 2001 Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch
Chinese Style Baby Carriers in Hong Kong https://gwulo.com/node/38670
Information about the comfey carrier
https://www.facebook.com/groups/125491030798530/ (public group with some information about the ABA Meh Tai)
Beloved Burden: Baby-Wearing Around the World, 2015 by I.V van Hout (Editor)
Bonding Via Baby Carriers: The Art and Soul of the Miao and Dong People 2001 by Yu-Chiao Lin, Christi Lan Lin, and Brenda Liu Lan
threads from thebabywearer.com (you will need to join The Babywearer to read the posts)
Interesting discussion about the origin of the word 'mei tai' after one vendor tried to trademark it
Another wrap scrap skirt! This is made from the same pattern as the Vatanai skirt I made. The pattern I used was the Lovejill reversible wrap skirt (bought from Etsy). I really like this pattern although I think it is best made in a drapey non wrap fabric, like a lightweight cotton. It was a hassle to get the hem sitting nicely as one side or the other (mainly the lining) seemed to settle unevenly probably because cut on the bias the wrap is stretchy (had the same problem with the Vatanai version). I fixed it in the end but it was rather time consuming to get right. The skirt is made from an Ellevill Paisley Tango - bamboo/cotton blend. These same colours are used in the Jade Chilli ring sling (available in my shop here). This wrap is lightweight and has a lovely drape so perfect for a wrap skirt. The lining was upcycled from an op shop find (it was probably a small tablecloth originally). I loved the vintage vibe (and I love strawberries too).
How do you modify a Hipababy full buckle to make it a better fit for a small baby?
With a custom made carrier you the option is available to add a built in cinching system and some in stock carriers will have this available too. If your carrier doesn't have the built in adjustments you can modify your carrier by cinching the base with a ribbon and/or wearing the waist apron style. Wearing the carrier with the carrier a little higher on your body than shown below will also shorten the body panel further.
A baby size carrier (38cm x 38cm/ 15"x 15") is suitable from around 6 months or so but when cinched will work from around 6kg/00 clothes (or around 2-3 months). Infant size (35.5cm x 37cm/14" x 14.5") works from around 4 months uncinched or from newborn (4kg cinched). Don't use a larger sized soft structured carrier with a small baby as you will not have enough back support increasing the risk of slumping.
When using a full buckle with a baby under 4 months baby's back must be well supported and baby's chin must not fall onto their chest (which can obstruct breathing). Baby also must not be buried right down into the carrier. Ideally you would want the top of the carrier (where the straps are attached) no higher than earlobe level.
Below are some tips and tricks on how to use the built in adjustments, or if you have basic carrier without built in cinching some tips to help to get a better fit.
The carrier in these instructions is a baby sized carrier with adjustable base and sides. The demo doll is wearing 00 clothes so is around the size of a 3 month old.
Summer is here! Your baby still wants to be carried but how can you be more comfortable when the weather is hot? Here are some tips.
Do I need a summer carrier?
Not necessarily. If you have a carrier on the warmer side and are going to be spending a lot of time in air conditioning and/or don't often need to go out in the hottest part of the day you may find your current carrier just fine. When you do venture out you can make sure you and your baby are well hydrated and dressed lightly, and you can use accessories like cooling towels to make summer wearing more comfortable. If you are looking for a summer carrier though there are lots of options!
A narrow blanket podaegi (also known as a nyia) is so versatile. Let me count the ways...
Yaro Quantum is a Doctor Who wrap and it was fun to turn into a skirt. I had a big scrap around 150cm and used virtually all of it. The pattern isn't directional. If you had a wrap that was you would need quite a bit of extra length for the same size. This skirt was made from the same pattern as the Girasol one (Collette Ginger skirt). I omitted the front seam this time and didn't cut on the bias. It was so much easier to sew (I think bias cuts are not well suited to wrap fabric). I was very happy with how this skirt turned out. I did noticed it creased a bit at the top by the end of the day (from sitting down) probably because this skirt is fairly fitted at the top and the wrap has some body/less drape than some other fabrics. It didn't bother me though. This skirt has a very flattering cut and I think it would look good on anyone.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of different waist styles? All the waist styles are comfortable to wear but there there are subtle differences between them. Below is some information to help you choose.
All of my carriers have a padded waist. When worn non apron style. a padded waist helps to transfer your child's weight to your hips rather than your shoulders. Padding can also prevent the waist band from digging in when worn to carry heavy kids. The waist is not too thickly padded though so you can also wear it apron style if you prefer. Wearing apron style (and sometimes rolling the waist too) is handy for shortening the body of the carrier when wearing with a smaller baby.
This is an option for meh dai's/mei tai's , half buckles and reverse half buckles (buckle shoulder straps). Pictured below is a reverse half buckle. I usually sew this waist as a continuous length double layer (11cm wide). Sometimes there is not enough continuous length in a wrap for this so I can usually get around that by sewing the waist in three parts and the ties can be double layer (11cm wide) or single layer wrap style ties. I will also sometimes sew this waist in two parts (joined in the middle of the wasitband) with double layer ties. It just depends on how much continuous length available in your wrap. If you have a preference just let me know.
Advantages: Can reduce the muffin top look (especially if you have single layer ties) as you can spread the straps out across your stomach. If your waist ties are long enough you can thread them through the shoulder straps for a waist free carry. A tie waist is very easy to share between different sized wearers.
Disadvantages: Can take a little practice to get the waist tightened effectively. Takes slightly longer to put on. You need to check you are untiying the right knot when taking baby down (shoulder straps should be untied first).
No Webbing Waist
I love to sew. I have five curious and active kids who keep me busy!